You want me to do what???

Does it ever seem like your best efforts aren’t cutting it? Sometimes our best efforts are our worst enemy. Sound unreasonable? Of course it does.

Let’s take a look at Luke 5:3-5. These verses will help us make sense of how God’s ways are different from ours.

“Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he (Jesus) asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Jesus had hitched a ride in Peter’s boat onto Lake Gennesaret. From there he had taught the masses. Afterward, he made an odd request of Peter to go further onto the lake and let out his nets. Keep in mind that prior to shuttling Jesus onto the lake, Peter had spent the night fishing (for a living, not for sport) and was caring for his nets. He was tired, downtrodden, and ready to eat and sleep. But, as usual, Jesus was asking someone to do something that seemed unusual and unlikely.

At that point, what do you think raced through Peter’s mind? Perhaps he thought, “this doesn’t make sense at all.” What would you have thought? Often, our responses to God can unfold into the following excuses:

  • What you are asking me to do rejects my experience and efforts. Or put glibly, “Jesus, you are ignoring my expertise and ability to do this work on my own.”
  • What you are asking me to do bypasses my usual approach. Or, “Jesus I know what I am doing here, and this won’t work.”
  • What you are asking me to do undercuts my reputation. Or, “Jesus, all good fisherman — like those on the shore — know that fishing like you suggested would be foolish.”

Take a minute. Go back and re-read those three excuses. Do they sound familiar? They are not unique to this situation. They are the same ones, perhaps with less syllables, that sprout and bloom in our own minds. When God gives us direction and nudges us into action these complaints, common to us all, incubate, then hatch.

Thankfully, Peter responded correctly. Though he barely knew Jesus he called Him, “Master.” He recognized Jesus’ authority, power, and Lordship. How? Perhaps, he had heard of Jesus and his reputation. Or, it might have been his response to his front row seat to Jesus’ teaching. Either way, he submitted to Jesus and obeyed Him. He got it right. It is easy to get it wrong here. We often yield to our own experience and efforts, or heed the counsel or coercion of others. Peter turned away from his own thoughts and preferences, looked away from the fisherman on the shore (his partners in business), and gave way to God’s word to him.

There is a pattern here that must not slip by us:

  1. We must move out of our routines to hear God’s Word. Peter had been washing and mending his nets. His shift was over. He was ready to go home. Jesus picked an odd time to step into Peter’s day. In the same manner, God rarely steps in at a time that suits our schedule.
  2. We must act on — not argue with — what God is teaching us or directing us to do. Peter had just heard Jesus teaching others, yet he applied it to himself. Think about that one. Ouch!
  3. We must leave the results with God, and embrace whatever follows. You know that this encounter resulted in Peter catching so many fish that he had to call out to James and John, his partners in the fishing business, to come and help him gather all of the fish. Obedience to one command led to two boats full of fish for future apostles.

Before I close, let’s rewind to Peter’s reply to Jesus, “we toiled all night and caught nothing,” and fast forward to Jesus’s words to the apostles in John 15:5:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Just as Peter couldn’t do it on his own, neither can we. Our experience, our efforts, our best ideas, and our best intentions are nothing apart from Him. But, with Him, and through Him, anything is possible. Adjust your time and attention, keep your antennae tuned, and get ready for God to show you your next step. Then, launch out by faith in Him, His grace, and His power. The outcome will be unlike anything that you could have imagined. It may not be two boat loads of fish, but it might be just as amazing to you as those fish were to Peter, and to everyone who witnessed it.

Look, and see ….

 

It happened yesterday — a minuscule moment hidden in a dandy day. I almost missed it.

 

Yesterday was one of those days that started out wonderfully and grew better by the hour. Emma, our oldest daughter, and I woke up before dawn to get ready for the Little Rock Marathon 10K race. It was our first 10K together, as well as our first road race (the others have been trail races, we are more naturally suited to off-road, root-and-rock-hopping, hill-scrambling sorts of races). We were excited, to say the least.

 

The cold air that greeted us as we left our hotel did not deter us. We knew that we would warm up soon enough. As we lined up with the 3,000 other participants in the 5/10K we encountered friends from our hometown and my workplace. As a dad-and-daughter running team we were glad to start the race alongside a coworker and friend of mine who was running with her daughter as well (a shout out to Robin and Hannah for a race well run!).

 

During the race Emma and I talked, ran with other home town folks for a bit, laughed, thanked volunteers along the way, talked even more (she is a teenage girl, after all) encouraged each other, and looked forward to a big post-race breakfast. As we neared the finish we kicked it into high gear — high gear is required for me to keep up with Emma as she approaches the finish line. We finished at the same time, enjoyed post race pictures, and collected our medals for completing the race. Soon after, we found out that of 1600 10K participants we had outrun 1197 of them. To add to our excitement we also learned that Emma had won 3rd place in her division! Make no mistake, this paragraph does function to build the narrative to the point of this post, but it also serves a huge, and well-placed, “dad brag.”

 

Sporting our medals and salty with sweat we made our way back to the hotel for showers and breakfast. We later checked out of the hotel and ran a few errands before heading home. Then, it happened. We stopped at a garden center/nursery in North Little Rock. As I browsed for a new plant for my office Emma said, “Dad, let me have your phone.” One never knows what is on a teenager’s mind when that request is made. She took my phone and began taking pictures of plants. She hunkered down over a few that I had already moved past. Then, smiling from ear to ear — a smile that will soon feature braces — she revealed her pictures. I was stunned.  One of her pictures stopped me in my tracks, which wasn’t difficult considering how stiff I had become after the race. I lingered on her photo, savored it, and admired her eye for beauty and ability to capture it. Her is Emma’s picture:

 

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If I offered a title to this picture it would be “God’s Hidden Jewel.” Here’s why. I had walked past that tiny plant saucering a single drop of water. I hadn’t noticed it at all. Emma had. She had spotted it right away, and then acted on her excitement in seeing it. What a life lesson. How often do I walk by these God-saturated moments and gifts? Each of the many times that I have looked at her picture I have been reminded to slow down, focus my attention, and spot the “hidden jewels” along each day’s path. A child’s giggle, an encouraging word, or a lavender sunset are grace-gifts from our Heavenly Father that can slip by us if we are not on the ready.

 

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” exclaimed the Psalmist in Psalm 34:8. The lesson gleaned from yesterday was “Look, and see that LORD is good!” Sometimes the biggest part of the day lies outside of the most exciting moments, and is hidden among the smaller ones.

 

As I pondered this lesson another passage of Scripture sprang to mind:
“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Luke 18:17)

 

A simple, and stern, reminder. We come to Christ and into His Kingdom with “child-like” faith. We also recieve God’s gifts as children do — in humble, simple, grateful trust in our Father in Heaven. This reminds us that in order to recognize God’s gifts, and to walk through each day at His pace, we would do well to observe how our children move through moments. As they stop and gasp in wonder, so should we. They miss nothing, neither should we.

 

Today, and tomorrow, let’s set our minds to walk at a child’s pace, to look, and to see …

New and Improved, hopefully…

 

With only seven weeks left in 2016 it seems fitting to place the events of the year on the scale and weigh them out — a time to evaluate and enjoy them. This Bearded Acorn post will have a more personal tone than usual. That is deliberate. You will find out why later on.

 

This year has been a splendid year: our daughters growing and becoming more wonderful and fun, and wonderfully fun, day by day, as well as a new role at work. And, lots of life unfolding in the cracks in between. As a plan-focused sort of fellow, please allow me to list some washouts and winners from the previous ten months.

 

Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Reading through the Bible in a year: Check! The One Year Bible is a great tool for this; add it to your wish list for Christmas.
  • Longer, “better” times of prayer: Check. But, the more we grow in prayer the more that we will feel compelled to grow further. It was a solid step in the right direction, many more steps required.
  • Carving out more quality time for and making more memories with family: two steps forward, half step back. That’s how parenting goes, especially with a teenager. But, it was the best year ever. Lots of laughter, trips, and “projects.”
  • Healthy eating: Check, sort of. I have eaten more fruits and vegetables, gotten plenty of fiber each day, and cut back on fried foods. Mostly. Still work to do here. I know, you are all very proud of my increased fiber intake. (Note: there were six different jokes that I typed in after that last sentence. I deleted them all. Let’s move on.)
  • Become a better listener: Uhhhh…, what did you just say? Can you repeat that? There’s work to do on this. James 1:19 leaps to mind here.
  • Speak less: Score! I know, some of you are scratching your heads, but you don’t know how much I actually wanted to say.) James 1:19 again.
  • Regular exercise: Four gold stars on this one. I started with yoga (Christian yoga, no chanting thanks), and added running, then moved up to trail-running. I feel better than I have in two decades.
  • Spending more time outdoors: Yahtzee! Even though the weather wasn’t kind, the effort was made and it was worth it.

 

There you have it … an unsolicited peek into the personal life of an unusual fellow. Now, on to the greater matter, a sketch of what I learned from all of this. Here it is encapsulated in two verses:

 

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

“The works of the LORD are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them.” Psalm 110:2

 

The overarching lesson in Hebrews 11:1 drove the ability to see and live out truths learned from Psalm 110.

 

About faith first, each day was a reminder that we walk by faith, not by what is visible or get-a-hold-able. But, as Christians our faith is an informed faith. God gives us promises, corrections, and direction in His Word to map our steps. Some steps are small, some are a stretch, each of them taken by faith. We have to believe God to be Who He says He is and to do what He says that He will do. It’s a daily decision to live by faith. It’s the best life.

 

The truths that budded on the branch of Hebrews 11:1 are found in Psalm 110:2. This verse delivers potent, but practical truths about knowing His work in our lives:

 

The primary lesson is that we must take delight in God’s works before we can really know them. If you think through the verse from the back to the front it becomes apparent. To take pleasure in God’s work requires attention to it. Deliberate attention. Mary Oliver once wrote, “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” As we devote our attention to what God is doing around us we can then take delight in it, and in Him.

 

As we become more aware and appreciative of God’s work — through disciplined attention — we will think on Him and His work more deeply. Or, as the psalmist states, we become “studiers” of God and His work. When you study and think on God’s work in your life two thoughts spring forward: “God, and His work and gifts, is spectacular,” and “I am unworthy.” Those two thoughts are the foundation of worship. Pause here…

 

It is after devoting attention to and taking delight in God’s works that we become better students of Him in His Word. It is through seeing, savoring, and studying that we agree with the psalmist with joy and conviction about God and His works.

 

Over the past ten months some goals were met while others were not. There is always next year for another good run at them. Over the past ten months I have grown in Christ and also had my share of stumbles. There is always tomorrow; His grace and mercies are new each morning (Lamentation 3:22-23).

 

You might wonder why I am writing about the previous year in November instead of late December. The answer: I wanted to get this rolled out so that it can prepare the way for several posts that will close out the Bearded Acorn’s year. Those posts will build upon the truths shared in this one.

 

So, in summary, what should you take away from this fairly structured stack of sentences? Set some goals, walk by faith, devote more attention and “study” to God and His works, and eat more fiber!

 

Enjoy the next seven weeks my friends. What can surpass autumn scenery, cool weather, the scents and sights of the holidays, laughter of loved ones, and wool socks?

 

Did I mention that the Bearded Acorn blog and logo is under development, and that there will be some holiday give-a-ways (think coffee mugs with the new logo)? Stay tuned…New and improved, hopefully.

Yours for the asking…

2 Chronicles 1:7-12 records an encouraging interaction between God and Solomon. God asks Solomon a question, Solomon responds discerningly, and God blesses him for it. Take a look:

 

“In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.”….Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?”God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may govern my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.” 2 Chronicles 1:7, 10-12
For the sake of brevity, let’s cut the principles into large pieces. This will save you from reading details and allow you to spend time in reflection instead. Here are the big slabs of truth:

 

  • Solomon had intimate fellowship with God. Notice that the interaction was not one-sided; it involved Solomon both listening to and responding to God.
  • Solomon’s response to God was wise and selfless. Solomon could have asked for riches, power, revenge on his enemies, or a long life; he did not. He asked for something that would honor God and help His people.
  • God granted Solomon his request for wisdom, and, also granted him the things that he didn’t ask for. We need to pause, grab ahold of this point, and wrestle with it. Play some mental ju-jitsu with it for a bit. Keep grappling with it, that’s it; wait, don’t knock over the lamp. Whew. Keep it down, someone in your house may become annoyed with your tussling with truth and mumble, “Are they in there reading The Bearded Acorn and wrestling with God’s Word again?” The word picture begged to be played out. Sorry, mostly.

 

Here’s the scoop on the third principle: After Solomon showed God-honoring reasons for his request God then granted him more than he had asked for. To state it another way, God doesn’t provide us with acres until we are faithful with inches. This principle should encourage us. It does so in several ways. First, it shows us that there is soul-building, joy-giving purpose in day-to-day living. Each day of honoring God leads to deeper days of it later. Honoring God in the most mundane of activities — work, house work, relationships, etc. — is proving ground for the events and tasks that lie ahead. Second, what we consider needful may actually be harmful. We must be satisfied in letting God determine what we need and when it is best for us to receive it. Third, following God is a daily process made up of successes and stumbles, watching and waiting. Rest assured that He gauges and guides the process perfectly. All three of these points direct us to trust God in the smallest areas of life as we grow toward more sizable ones. The super-sized Reese’s cups in life come after we have eaten our broccoli, with a good attitude.

 

To see these things in the day-to-day requires wisdom. You might be thinking, “If I was only as wise as Solomon…” The same wisdom that was granted to Solomon is available to you!

 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

 

Ask God for wisdom. He has plenty to give, and is pleased to give it to you. Remember, that wisdom is not magic dust sprinkled on your head from heaven. Wisdom is found in God’s Word. As you read and study the Bible the Holy Spirit will provide wisdom for understanding and application to your life. As you ask for wisdom each day, study God’s Word, and rely upon His Spirit exercise patience. You will begin to recognize His wisdom germinating, and then sprouting in your mind and heart. Growing in wisdom is like the slow and steady growth of an oak. The growth rings of wisdom are added as you seek God, soak in His Word, and follow Him.

Ask, and like Solomon, you will receive…

Liberty that lasts…

As we celebrate of the 4th of July each of us will consider the purchase price of our liberty. Hundreds of thousands of America’s finest folks have offered their service, and often their lives, to provide innumerable and immeasurable freedoms:

  • To worship as we choose
  • To believe as we choose (or have been chosen to, depending on your view of Romans 8, Ephesians 1, and Acts 13:48). Yes, I had to put that theological jab in there. But, it was designed to nudge you to read those verses, and think on them.
  • To raise our children as we choose
  • To own property, a home, a Bible, and your own thoughts, to clip your fingernails in pubic (please don’t!), to post your events on FaceBook, to pierce or tattoo your whatever, and such.

 

Those macro freedoms are offered to us all, for now. While they are grand, much of the greatest enjoyment comes in the specific application of them in your life. Here are some examples from my weekend:

  • The building excitement of carrying on our family traditions on Independence Day: the kids’ all day swim-fest, grilling hamburgers and hot dogs, Dairy Queen ice cream, and watching the local fireworks display. And, getting a little moist in the eyes at some, or several, points during the day.
  • The joy of spending a couple of shirt-soaking hours picking purple-hulled peas with my dad, talking about our jobs, and enjoying stories from years past.
  • The restfulness of reading: the Bible, the poetry of Wendell Berry (A Short Porch is a new collection of his “Sabbath Poems”), Arkansas Sportsman magazine, and Mayflower (an account of the Pilgrims dream of and journey to America).

 

Each of those moments cascade from the many freedoms that we enjoy as Americans.

There are those in our culture who want to change that. They seek to redefine our freedoms in order to conform them to their purposes and views. Know this, their redefining of freedoms is an attempt at reducing them. We will sway with them or succumb to them only if we allow it. While subtle and invisible, the struggle against this is real, and fierce. Without a doubt, our current cultural conflict is a spiritual one. So, what better way to combat the “redefining” of our culture than with eternal truth?

 

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

 

Notice in Galatians 5:1 that Paul gives Christ-followers a trio of tested truths to grasp to as they grapple for spiritual, and cultural, liberty:

  1. Christ Himself has set us free. It is a precious freedom from the power of sin and full pardon for our sin.
  2. His followers have to “stand firm” in order to retain this freedom. There are pressures and powers within us (our sinful nature) and outside of us (the world, its ways, and the enemy) that will lie to and lure us away from the truth, the life, and freedom that He brings (John 8:32 and 10:10, you know the drill, look them up and read them).
  3. The way our liberty is lost and we are enslaved again is by us allowing it to happen. We have the power of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to correct and keep us.

 

What’s the point of the previous 550 words? In summary: as Christians, and citizens of the United States, we enjoy rich spiritual liberty in Christ, and daily freedoms as Americans, if we forgo the spiritual freedom then we will certainly forfeit the cultural ones. Believe it or not, reading your Bible each day, spending time in prayer, recognizing what God is doing in your life, and appreciating the joys and liberties that you experience are a firm defense against losing them. A great enemy to each of God’s gifts is not our opponent’s onslaught against them, it is your indifference to them.

Our society is at the gates, jangling the chains of submission. You have the sword of truth and shield of faith, what will you do?

Heroes begin humbly …

Oftentimes we lean on others for advice and direction. This is good. Proverbs 11:14 and 15:22 promote it. Suppose that tomorrow the tide turned and your boss or a public leader wanted your advice? How would you prepare for such a moment? A snippet from the life of Elisha found in 2 Kings 3:11 provides the answer.

 

“And Jehoshaphat said, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here, through whom we may inquire of the LORD?” Then one of the king of Israel’s servants answered, “Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.” 2 Kings 3:11

 

Before Elisha spoke to kings, he was a prophet; before he was a prophet, he was an apprentice to Elijah; while he was an apprentice, he was a humble servant.

Following Elijah’s chariot-of-fire-ride to heaven, Elisha became his successor. Although Elisha suddenly took on Elijah’s role he had not instantly become a prophet. Over time he had learned how to serve as a prophet under the tutelage of Elijah. It is fitting that Elisha’s first supernatural feat was one that he had just learned from Elijah prior to his departure  to heaven (2 Kings 2:13-14). While serving the prophet Elijah, young Elisha had watched him walk with God, deal with people, handle adversity, and fulfill his role. Elisha had learned as he served.

It’s easy for each of us to want “better” — a better job, a better situation in life, etc. Those things can be good so long as they are kept within the confines of God’s will and Word. In our spiritual lives we often want more as well. We desire to know God intimately, pray fervently, read the Bible consistently, and live wisely. Each of these from the “better things” to spiritual growth will not arrive without work. Sadly, we live in a culture that seeks advancement without effort. The term for that idea is “entitlement.”

It’s easy to spot entitlement. Those who feel “entitled” will think, and often foolishly say, things such as “I deserve, I want, I should get…” If selfishness and laziness married and had a child its name would be “Entitlement.” It is not a great leap of logic to see that entitlement is the opposite of service. Entitlement stamps it feet and says, “I deserve this because I am me.” Services reflects and remembers, “I receive because of Who God is, not because of who I am.” Let that sink in. Think back on the last week and recall which of those two attitudes you demonstrated most often.

Now, back to Elisha to show us that entitlement has no place in the life of a servant-leader.  2 Kings 3:11 employs a simple and moving picture of Elisha’s relationship to Elijah, as well as the theme of his training to be a prophet, “(Elisha) poured water on the hands of Elijah.” He was Elijah’s assistant and had handled the most humble of chores, evening washing the prophet’s hand before meals. As Elisha had served Elijah, he had learned from him; as he had learned, he then served more faithfully. That model and attitude is to be ours as well. We serve, then we learn.

 

For you to follow this example it requires a few “musts”:

  • You must know your role and find contentment in doing your best in it.
  • You must appreciate that what you learn in your current role prepares you for your next one. To attempt to hurry the process is to short change yourself and walk by sight, not by faith.
  • You must come to realize that you do not write out God’s plans or get to hold His watch. God designs, builds, and completes on His time, not yours.

Our culture urges us to claw and climb for what we want as we see fit. Elisha did it God’s way — from being a humble servant of a prophet to learning to be a prophet. Like many other heroes of the faith he served, learned, … and then led. Would you like to become a leader and do it God’s way? The process is simple, but slow: humbly serve, patiently learn, … then lead.

Words of Grace, and Granite…

Most folks enjoy a sweet snack. A chocolate chip cookie, a scoop (or two) of ice cream, or a slice of pie is a fine treat. We like sweets. Our BMIs prove it.

You may be thinking, “that last sentence wasn’t very sweet.” But, we will see in a moment that it actually is a style of “honey-word” that the Bible demonstrates for us. Now, you may be thinking, “what does a comment about my BMI have to do with the Bible?” Excellent question. Enter Proverbs 16:24; it provides the answer, and so much more.

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

This verse in Proverbs shows us that a certain kind of words are “like a honeycomb,” and that they have a beneficial effect upon us. First, let’s see the effects that they have on us. Then, we will see what those words look like.

Proverbs 16:24 lists two of the general effects of “gracious words.” These words “sweeten the soul” and bring “health to the body.” They improve both spiritual and physical health. The goal of gracious words is to solidify, not to “be sweet.” In other words, that which is healthy for the body and soul may not seem “sweet” at all. (You already can feel the hard right turn coming can’t you?)

In order to identify and enjoy “words of grace” we must know what they look like, or better, how they are packaged.  The following list points out the different packages that they come in. Some will cause you to nod in agreement while a couple of them might leave you shaking your head.

First, a definition. “Gracious words” are discussions that are wise, discerning, grace-based, and soul-building. The Bible lists several kinds of “gracious words.”

Here is a summary of some of them:
1. Words of grace are words of encouragement. They are words that are meant to help, comfort, or build up others. The Greek word in the New Testament that we translate as “encourage” means to pour courage into the soul of another. Perfect word picture.
2. Words of grace are words of truth. The teaching of God’s Word plants seeds of grace in the soil of the soul. In Psalm 119:29 the psalmist asked God to “graciously teach me your law.” Grace and truth are partners. Grace without truth is sentiment; truth without grace is condemnation. When God’s truth is shared or taught it is an expression of grace that instructs us to further depend upon God’s grace.
3. Words of grace are words of correction. When a Christian lovingly corrects a fellow Christ-follower it is grace-based speech. A love that does not correct isn’t love at all. A handy example of this is from parenting. We encourage and teach our children, but for both to have any substantive effect we must also correct them. This rough-cuts across the grain of a society obsessed with protecting feelings and bent on being acceptable to all, by all.

 

There are numerous examples of biblical correction that are gracious, yet also stout, stern, and satirical. Here are some of them from the mouth of Jesus:
A. Stout – From Matthew 16:23, “But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Jesus loved Peter, and at times demonstrated His love for him by sternly correcting him. That may not seem gracious to us, but it was for Peter’s ultimate good. Allowing Peter to continue on in error may have been “nice,” but it wouldn’t have been grace-based or truth-based.

B. Stern – Check out Jesus’ response to James and John when they asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory: “Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mark 10:38).

Think of this not as “Aw shucks guys, you are confused about this,” but more like, “Guys, in your prideful and selfish request you have no idea of what you are talking about.” True. Stern. Loving. It’s grace honed with the edge of truth. Jesus went on to use the stern correction of James and John as a lesson on servanthood for the group. The loving and stern correction of two of them became edification for all of them. He called them out in order to build them up.

C. Satirical – This one is foreign to the church today, but was widely used until the last century. Satire is the use of humor to point out an error, bad judgement, or misbehavior. Think of it as sanctified smart-aleckry. As you become aware of satire as a teaching device you will notice as it leaps to life all over Scripture, particularly in the word pictures in the Book of Proverbs and teachings of Jesus.

Jesus regularly used satire. In fact, he used it so frequently that it’s almost shocking. Here are some of his sledgehammer-like satirical lines found in Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Emphasis added)

That is satire! It points out error, corrects it, and does so with humor and grace. (For some hard-hitting satire, and fine use of holy metaphor, check out Jesus’ correction of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.)

You might be wondering how this post began with sweet words and ended with stout and satirical ones. Here’s how. To weave all of this together we must: 1. Remember that a growing faith is not based on feelings (temporary) but on truth (eternal), and when consistently applied the truth is usually like sand paper to our feelings. 2. Pursue that which promotes long-view growth, not short-term goodies (feeling fuzzy, acceptance by others, etc.).

To summarize, words of grace build others up through encouragement, instruction, and correction. The correction ranges from gentle rebuke to strong satire. All are necessary; each balances the other.

If you want to build up others try sharing some words of grace with them this week. You may need to give someone a verbal pat on the back or a spiritual poke in the ribs. Both are biblical; both are needed. Using the right words in the right manner at the right time always requires … wisdom. So, pray before — preferably, long before — you speak.

Until next time, a great way to learn to use satire as a means of grace-based corrrection is by practicing on your in-laws, or boss, or …. on second thought, start with encouragement and work your way through the others first!

All of those opposed shout, “Nay!”

 

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun, except for maybe sunscreen. Seriously, what Solomon teaches us from that oft-quoted verse is that people, their tendencies, and actions scarcely change over time.  People do now what they did then, and will continue to do so.

Given an introduction to the never-changing nature of human nature, I want us to peek into how people respond to leaders or authority. We now do this knowing that as it was then so it will be today, and tomorrow.

To do so we will look at a short passage from 1 Samuel 10 to see that being a leader or in a position of authority is not easy for any of us.

Then Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship, and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the LORD. Then Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his home. 26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went men of valor whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” And they despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.” 1 Samuel 10:25-27

Let’s begin by understanding that there is no such thing as a perfect leader — other than Jesus — or a perfect follower. King Saul was by no measure a perfect leader. He wasn’t even a good one. Although Saul was Israel’s first king, he was not first rate. He made rash decisions, was selfish, and couldn’t stand on his own. Evidence of the latter is shown here:

“And when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he attached him to himself.” 1 Samuel 14:52

This post is not about the quality of Saul’s leadership, though it does provide some context. Rather, it’s about the fact that there is no shortage of those who respond negatively to leaders.

Please go back and read 1 Samuel 10:25-27. Really, read it slowly.

Saul had become king of Israel. He had laid out, in verse 25, the manual on kingship. He then left, and the crowd dispersed. Except for a few knuckleheads. These men are described — by God’s Word no less — as “some worthless fellows.” As their progeny read about them years later their cheeks must have flushed with pride. “Oh yeah,” says one of the fellows’ great-grandsons while playing with his chums, “my dad is mentioned in the book of 1 Samuel (or One Samuel as Trump would say).” I digress. I will try to un-digress. Give me a minute, I am snickering at the thought of it all.

Yes, that’s better.

So, these bozos made a statement about their new king that provides insight for us to consider. Here are four pithy principles to ponder:

1. Naysayers use questions to undermine leadership. Verse 25 quotes the worthless fellows, “how can this man save us?” This technique wasn’t new then and isn’t old now. It’s been used since the beginning of time and has no visible expiration date. If you are in a leadership position at work, church, or in a civic group — in other words, in a situation with three or four of human beings gathered — then you should expect people to question you and your ability to lead. Whether their motive is envy or apathy, the effect is the same. This leads us to the next principle.

2. Naysayers are saturated with bitterness and jealousy. They are vipers who hope to inject their hatred into others. Their fangs drip with the venom of envy. They are not happy unless others are unhappy. Nothing is enough, no one is good enough, and things can’t be bad enough enough for others to suit them. They can quickly list a dozen reasons why your idea won’t work. Never mind the fact that they do not have a solution, or have ever had an idea of their own. Their glass is half-empty yet full of malice

3. Naysayers will not do the right thing. While others presented the new king with gifts those scoffers only offered scorn. Observing a naysayer doing the right thing for the right reason would be like spotting Bigfoot in a Zumba class. Never expect anything good from anyone who cannot see the good in anything. For this reason they will not do what is right even when the right thing is demonstrated in front of them.

4. Naysayers can be shut down. The most effective way is by use of the Guillotine. Just kidding, but it would be effective. Or, while referring to medieval methods of punishment, imagine a naysayer being drawn and quartered. As the process begins the ole nagging Nellie or Ned would shout, “those ropes won’t hold, and your horses are too puny to do this right!” They can be shut down by “holding your peace.” (verse 27) Don’t argue with them. Leave them alone. They can’t be cured because they like to marinate in misery. Do not answer a fool according to his folly, because in doing so you become like him, said Solomon in Proverbs 26:4.

Saul didn’t do well as king. It wasn’t because of the naysayers. But, you can do well regardless of critics around you. You can do well at home, at work, at church all the while circled by cynics. They are everywhere; they dislike leaders, authority, and those who earn the right to be either. Good leaders move on despite pessimists. Elijah did; Jesus did; Paul did; you can too. Each of those Bible folks mentioned held to truth and grace, and persevered. You can too.

Ignore the doubters. Rise above them. Or, if you have the proper authority, have them drawn and quartered.

The back side of goals and right side of doors

As I savor the last bits of the Christmas holiday I have begun to look forward to the New Year. A year ago I jotted down a few goals for the arrival of 2015. Looking back, I can say that each of them has made a difference in my life. Here’s the list from this time last year:

1. Start a blog (check). I did, you read it, and we are all better for it, mostly. Seriously, the Bearded Acorn went further, and wider, than I had anticipated. Thank you kind readers.

As an aside, when you start a blog you will attract a few interesting folks and receive an occasional odd comment or two. The award for the out-of-left-field comment of the year goes to the fellow who emailed and stated that if I would change the font and layout of my blog them I would see more people converted to Christ. I didn’t change the font and layout — I am not sure how to do so and maintain what I was shooting for, and because I value content over cosmetics — which means that by not doing so some poor souls remain unconverted. I trust God’s sovereignty in saving sinners more than the razzamatazz of my blog’s font. To wit,  I had no idea that when the blog’s outdoor light was turned on that one of the moths would inspect the font of the lettering on the bulb. Who knew that one could spot such details with so much light shining in his tiny moth face?

2. Read more, and read better (check). While the idea of reading more is obvious, by “reading better” I meant that I wanted to read with a “writer’s eye” and learn from the pros.  I used a rotation system — which I learned in August was similar to that of Douglas Wilson — of reading a few pages per day in a book on Bible study/Christian exhortation (Douglas Wilson, John Piper, etc.), on the craft and art of writing, in a biography, and in a book of specific interest (humor, poetry, history, etc.). Of course, I read the Bible each day as well, which brings me to the third goal.

3. Read the Bible differently (check). By this I intended to read the Bible as an imaginative exegete, or as an exegetical imaginative. My tool for accomplishing this was Crossway’s ESV Reader’s Bible. The ESV Reader’s Bible is a remarkable Bible that is worth every denarii. It removes the verse numbers, references, and footnotes from the text (which were not in the manuscripts anyway). This lends to reading the Bible as a flowing narrative, much like the original readers would have encountered. The Reader’s Bible has a simple layout with a reader-friendly font. Maybe the moth-guy got to them as well. Oh well, if you do not have a goal for your Bible reading for next year, I would encourage you to read through the New Testament several times in the ESV Reader’s Bible in 2016.

4. Improve my fiber intake (check). This was not a spiritual goal; it was a gastrointestinal one. In case you are wondering — or, if you are not, then you can skip down to number five — fiber intake does improve overall health, reduce the risk of GI cancer, and increase the stock prices of Cracklin’ Oat Bran and Bush’s Beans.

5. Exercise three times per week (swing and a miss). While I did exercise more, I didn’t meet my goal, unless you count reading as aerobic activity (I read pretty hard) or preparing beans and peas several nights per week.

6. Watch less TV (check). This one had to occur in order for me to accomplish number two (not to be confused with the fiber goal) of reading more.

7. Write more (check). Writing blog posts, a book manuscript, and poetry kept both my mind and keyboard busy.

It goes without saying that spending more time with family, doing well at work, etc. were goals as well. They were, and will be next year also.

 

As I peek over the fence into 2016 here is a list of some goals that might make the cut for next year:

1. Use one lunch break at work per week as time for reading and writing.

2. Teach the entire United States of America how to correctly enter and exit a business that has a double-doored entrance. Stay to the right folks. Choose the door on the right hand side when you enter, and — for the love of all that is decent and obvious — choose the door on the right when you exit. The doors did not change sides once you entered the store, and your hands didn’t switch sides either.

3. Reduce TV time even further. I watched less than ever before this past year, even during college football season, and plan to watch even less next year.

4. Double my fiber intake. Just kidding. One’s percentage of the recommneded daily fiber intake does not need to reach four digits, for lots of reasons.

5. Continue to read more, read better, and write more, and better.

6. Post on the Bearded Acorn more frequently.

7. Exercise regularly.

 

I hope that you had a good 2015, and that your 2016 will be even better. Stay tuned, I will share my final goals for the New Year and offer some challenges for you that will make your 2016 deeper and broader, and more sarcastic.

Simeon’s example…

With Christmas speeding down the rails, let’s take a moment and look back at an often over-looked scene of Jesus’ arrival.  Please take a moment and read Luke 2:22-35; really, go ahead, read slowly. Read it out loud — use your indoor Bible-reading voice please — and soak it in. There, now that you have read it, let’s take the narrative apart so that it can assemble for us an up-close portrait of the Christ-child. Here are some of the notables of the narrative that will guide you as you study through this stirring passage.

 

In Luke 2:25 we meet an older fellow named Simeon. He is found nowhere else in the New Testament. His single inclusion in Scripture is brief, but it is one that will moisten your eyes.

 

First, Simeon was a fellow who knew God. Many know about God; Simeon knew Him. The introduction to Simeon shows this in verse 25. He was a resident of Jerusalem who greatly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, was led by the Spirit of God, and was godly and devout. It’s worth noting that the folks to whom God revealed the birth and identity of Jesus were not mainline religious folks. The on-the-fringe folks — magi from the East, shepherds, Joseph and Mary (carpenter and his young wife), Simeon, and a very unique 84 year old lady named Anna — were the ones who received Jesus’ birth announcement.

 

The point here — a serrated point nonetheless — is that the folks who should have been ready to recognize Jesus didn’t, not at all. They swung and missed. They were busy steeping in self-righteousness and marinating in man-made rules. To bring it to the present, almost all “good church folk” nowadays would have missed Jesus due to thier serving on committees, crafting new bylaws of behavior for others to follow, and congratulating one another on their own acumen in doing both. Instead, some farmers, a handful of foreigners (somehow they made it made it over Donald Trump’s “wall.”), an old fellow, and a very Pentecostal-like 84 year old would have recognized Jesus first. Ouch.

 

Second, and to advance the previous point, Simeon had ears to hear what God had said and was saying (verse 26). Jesus frequently stated, “he who has ears to hear (God’s Word), let him hear.” There is a reason that he said that, and said it a lot of times to lots of people. Simeon had ears to hear God. He listened; he heard; he believed. It goes in that order.

 

Third, Simeon had eyes to see what God was doing (verse 27-28). He had listened, heard God, and believed Him. Then, he saw. It goes in that order. When he saw Jesus he knew who and what He was. He did so instantly. How? Simeon ears were perked to hear and his eyes were focused to see through sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Notice that Simeon went to the temple “in the Spirit.” This was his normal practice. Verse 25 states that “the Holy Spirit was upon him.” This was his usual spiritual state.  In what “spirit” do you go to worship? What is your usual spiritual state? We tend to think that going to church will help us to become Spirit-filled, and it can, but shouldn’t we first arrive there packed-to-the-gills full of the Spirit? We know the painful answer, don’t we.

 

Fourth, Simeon’s faith finally held its long-awaited object. When by enduring faith he received God’s promise worship welled up and poured out publicly. His faith had been based on God’s Word to him. His peace (verse 29) had been based upon God’s promise to him. At last his faith and peace were woven together in realization through recognition of the Messiah. And, he got to hold the Messian with his owns hands.

 

Lastly, Simeon’s worship of Jesus introduced others to Him. Notice the roles of and titles for Jesus that Simeon revealed to others: Savior (verse 30), Light for revelation to the Gentiles (32), Glory for Israel (32), Messiah (32). He recognized Jesus and aptly told others about him through praise. This passage is referred to as “Simeon’s Psalm.” In light of that, the question must be asked … if Simeon’s words and worship revealed Jesus, then what do our words of public worship reveal? Honestly, much of our worship highlights how we feel, what we think, and what we like about God. It focuses on God through the lens of our thoughts and feelings toward Him. Re-read that. Once more, please. We are not good lenses. Scripture is the perfect lens. Simeon’s worship was Scripture-dense and Spirit-loaded. Ours is often experience-based and situation-soaked. Here’s a quick test:  recall and think through the words of songs that you sing at church and the lyrics of your favorite Christian songs. Do those lyrics burst with Scripture or bleat out about feelings? Count the use of “I, me, and my” in them and that will distill out the answer.

 

In closing, this short just-after-Christmas story found in Luke 2 shows that your personal spiritual walk must be Scripture-filled if you are to truly know God and see Him at work. Then, it should fuel your worship so that the spotlight rests on Jesus and His greatness, not on your thoughts or feelings — both of which may be non-Scriptural — about Him.

 

Over his lifetime Simeon listened to God’s Word; he heard; he believed; he saw; he worshiped rightly. It goes in that order. Let this order our celebration of Christmas and the upcoming new year as well.

 

Merry Christmas!